[Column] ‘We believe in Asia’

FOR over two months, I have been virtually half-blind and unable to do any writing. I’ve had my left eye treated by a cornea specialist for an infection. The last three weeks, I have been wearing an eye-patch. This week, thank God, Dr. Shaley Shah, my eye doctor, promised to remove the eye-patch. It was in anticipation of my full recovery that I labored over this piece with my one good eye (the patch has been removed and the infection is gone but it turns out that recovering my vision will take a while – oh well, c’est la vie!).

This has been the longest time that I have missed writing a weekly newspaper column, since my first piece came out in Business World over 33 years ago. I have rarely missed a deadline. The unbelievable  – even ridiculous – extents to which I have resorted to meet my column deadlines would make a funny piece, I think. But that can wait.

At any rate, over the past weeks, I decided to go through my files. And I came upon a very interesting – almost prophetic – piece that I wrote in September 1982, more than 39 years ago.

“We Believe in Asia” was an ad in free verse that I wrote for the AMA Consolidated Group, of which I was president and CEO. It was for the souvenir program of the 13th Asian Advertising Congress in New Delhi, India. My boss, Antonio R. de Joya, AMACon Group chairman and founding chairman of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), also planned to use it as the intro for his annual report on the federation at the Ad Congress.

Frankly, at the time, the piece sounded too much like hyperbolic rhetoric and hollow flag-waving. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about that period:

“The worst recession in half a century cast a shadow over the growth prospects of the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific. In 1981, many of these nations managed to maintain the tempo of economic progress, but 1982 brought a general slow-down in growth rates under the grim pressures of lingering recession, high interest rates and faltering export earnings because of slack demand and increasing protectionism in the industrialized countries. The impact was felt not only in widespread development cutbacks and mounting fiscal imbalances but also by millions of people as unemployment rose and hardships worsened for the region’s ragged legions of rural poor.”

Indeed, the economic prospects for Asia were not encouraging. One good sign, however, was that, China, long regarded as a “Sleeping Giant,” had begun to stir. With the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976 and the growing power of Deng Xiaoping as paramount leader, China had begun to revive its entrepreneurial spirit. According to Wikipedia, “Deng led China through a series of far-reaching market-economy reforms, earning him the reputation as the ‘Architect of Modern China.’…Under (Deng’s) leadership…China underwent massive economic reforms. The Chinese economy became less centrally planned. It evolved into what Deng Xiaoping described in a 1984 speech as ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’”

Tony de Joya believed in Asia well before then.

At the 10th Asian Advertising Congress in Sydney, Australia in 1976, Tony had agreed to take on the challenge of formally organizing the incipient AFAA. This was achieved in 1978, at the 11th Asian Ad Congress in Manila. Tony was unanimously elected founding chairman.

In 1982, for the 13th Asian Ad Congress in New Delhi, Tony asked me to create the ad based on the theme, “We Believe in Asia.” While I verbalized the theme, Tony de Joya was the visionary.  But it was Deng Xiaoping who made it a reality. It turned out to be an impressive ad, designed by AMA’s executive art director Alejandro Serrano. Allow me to reprint the poem:

We Believe in Asia

Only a few decades ago, many of those who looked on Asia,

Saw with barely seeing eyes;

For they just saw jungles, untamed mountains,

Endless stretches of undeveloped land;

While we saw treasures yet untapped

In the pristine wilderness,

In the caverns and the bowels of the earth,

In the soil that knows no equal in its wealth.

They only saw hungry billions gaping helpless at the sky,

Mankind crawling out of wombs, just to die.

We saw a multitude of minds awakening,

Hearts and sinews strengthening.

Venturing.  Daring. Challenging the doom-songs that were sung.

They missed the structures of glass and steel;

The huge machines that dig into the earth and reach up to the skies;

And they wondered if they would ever see them here.

But we saw the art and wisdom of the ages

That first bore fruit upon these grounds

And without which their structures and machines would not have been.

And now they have begun to see

The promise we have always known;

The jungles and the mountains baring wealth;

The billions rising in a chorus of dreams being realized.

But they may never see enough

And we shall reap more than they ever will –

For we believed, when they did not.

Remarkably, much of what I wrote have been realized. Asia, spearheaded by China, has become an economic powerhouse. China is, in fact, set to overtake the United States, even in digital technology. While the U.S. has accused China of intellectual piracy, there are many aspects of digital technology and artificial intelligence where the former “sleeping giant” is making huge strides. And in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), South Korea, India, Japan, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Thailand and Taiwan are surging ahead of many countries in Europe.

You may ask, why isn’t the Philippines in the roster of Asia’s economic tigers? Wasn’t there a time when the Philippines was an aggressive and progressive member of this pack – in fact, ahead of many of them? True.

But if Deng Xiaoping’s leadership spelled the difference for China, a series of failed leaders caused our country’s retrogression. This should caution us to choose more wisely and carefully in the coming presidential election.

If Tony de Joya were still alive, I would suggest writing a piece on the theme, “We Believe in the Philippines.” I sincerely believe this.

We just need to understand that what the Philippines needs is a leader with a vision. Not just profanity and bluster, or kleptomaniacal brilliance or pompous political rhetoric. And we must be prepared to back up that leader with the hard work and commitment of an awakened citizenry. Only then can we change the trajectory of our beloved Philippines.

We should prove that Rizal was wrong in his “Mi Ultimo Adios.”  Our Patria Adorada does not deserve to be “nuestra perdido Eden.“


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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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